I have received a bunch of e-mails about last night's posts on public sociology. I'm way behind on some work, and so I haven't answered several of them yet. Apologies.
A couple of the e-mails came from friends who think that the demands of bloggerly forthrightness require me to make a confession. See, my last post included a mock protest button saying "Unashamed Professional Sociologist." I said then that it was somewhat strange for me to be showing such enthusiasm for the word "professional." What I did not then acknowledge, and what said friends have taken delight in noting, is that it was at least as strange for me also to be showing such enthusiasm for the word "sociologist" (especially, as one took glee in pointing out, when it follows the adjective "unashamed").
So, fine, full disclosure: Yes, it is true that I have before referred to myself as an "accidental sociologist." Yes, it is true that when asked why I became a sociologist, I have sometimes cited as the main reason the unavailability of seats in English classes for underclassmen where I went to college, compared to the bountiful availability of seats in sociology classes (and at such convenient times, too!). Yes, in response to the same question, I have other times made reference to my rural origins and low familial educational attainment and said that "There was no one who knew enough to stop me." Yes, yes, I admit that I have also answered that question by saying, "You'd be surprised how far I was into it before I realized how much of it I disliked."
Mostly, most of the times I have said such things, I have been mostly for the most part just joking. Mostly. More than mostly, maybe. Maybe.
But, yes, full disclosure would require me to observe that I do seem to have become a little more reticient to directly introduce or identify myself as "a sociologist." I seem more often to say that I am "a social psychologist" or that I'm "a faculty member in sociology" or a "sociology professor" (see sidebar) or vaguely that I "do a lot of research with surveys." And, for that matter, when I do say that I am a sociologist, I do sometimes stick various adjectives-of-distance in front of it, including not just the aforementioned "accidental," but also "licensed," "nominal," "ambivalent," "wayward," "unorthodox," "odd-sort-of," "quirky," "somewhat-lapsed," "not-unreasonable", and "dogma-averse," among others.
Don't get me wrong here. Some of my best friends are sociologists! (Actually, most of my best friends are sociologists, former sociologists, or significant others of sociologists, etc., including those who delight in reminding me of my own longstanding like-hate relationships with various swaths of the discipline.) Ultimately, to be clear, there is all kinds of sociology that I do much find interesting and engaging, including all sorts of things afield from any kind of work I personally do. And I do enjoy my own research (although opinions about its sociological-ness admittedly could vary).
Even so, however, the truth of the matter is that a whole lot of the time I do indeed feel a whole lot alienated from a whole lot of sociology. I have even thought about using the sidebar of JFW to keep an Alienation From Sociology index on the sidebar to allow the world to track and monitor my internal sense of intellectual disaffection from the enterprise that was generous enough to grant me a Ph.D. and give me a job. I could, perhaps, use the same color scheme as our Homeland Security alert system--blue to indicate times of nearly complete epistemic bliss, yellow to suggest an elevated estrangement, all the way up to red for the severest he's-setting-his-journals-ablaze type of alienation.
Don't worry. I am not going to here launch into to a full manifesto-style recounting of the various sources and dimensions of my malcontent. It is looming on my mind this evening because I think no small part of what bothers me so much about certain aspects of these recent proclamations about public sociology is that it very much adds to this sense that my own ideas regarding what is good sociology and good for sociology is somewhere close to orthogonal to the winds prevailing and ever-so-hard-a-blowing in the field. The alienation so provoked, I should say, is not at all about political orientation. If one were to collapse all the nuances of political opinions on all issues into a single unidimensional construct, my own politics would by all indications be to the left of 95% or so of the American population, and so scarcely more than a smidge to the right of the average sociologist.
Anyway, I may write more about all this later, with respect to public-and-professional sociology. If I do, this post is a preface to that one.